PITTSFORD – Sean McDermott stayed true to his word.
The Buffalo Bills’ coach said before the first practice of training camp Thursday night that the quarterback rotation used in the spring would stay in place, meaning Nathan Peterman was with the starters, AJ McCarron was with the second team and Josh Allen ran with the third team on a warm night at St. John Fisher College.
“We’ll pick up where we left off there,” McDermott said. “I’m anxious to watch them get out here today (and) compete just like every other position.”
While McDermott is understandably not playing favorites, there was no mistaking who had the crowd’s backing Thursday. The loudest cheers were reserved for any time Allen – the No. 7 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft – completed a pass.
He did that on his first rep of 11-on-11 work, throwing a dart to rookie undrafted free agent Robert Foster. Later in practice, Allen made two more impressive completions to Foster. The rookie’s first training camp practice ended on a down note, however, as he threw a pair of ugly incompletions on his final set of reps. On the first, he overthrew running back Taiwan Jones, then on the next play sailed the ball over rookie receiver Ray-Ray McCloud’s head.
“I always focus on what happened badly in practice, and there were a couple throws that got away from me,” Allen said. “The one where the running back was right in front of me just kind of handcuffed me. I never really had one of those types of throws. Good thing it happened in practice, not a game, so we can learn from it, continue to grow, and work on improving every day.”
A year ago at this time, Allen was in fall camp at Wyoming, “running 20 gassers.”
“So to be out here with the Buffalo Bills, living my NFL dream with the greatest fans in the world, I'm truly blessed,” he said.
Allen and the Bills hammered out a contract Wednesday, ensuring he’d be on the field for the team’s first practice.
“I made that known to my guys and the guys here – I didn't want to miss time,” he said. “We got it done. That's all that matters.”
Allen said he hadn’t thought much about becoming a millionaire overnight.
“I love this game. I don't play for the money,” he said. “It's the only thing I truly love in life beside my family, my faith and my friends. Football is the thing in my life that's always been there.”
Allen mixed in with the first team with 9-on-9, but worked exclusively with the third unit during 11-on-11 drills.
Peterman took the first set of starting reps, but the second-year veteran downplayed its significance.
“I try not to think about the whole rotation, getting into that,” he said. “You start overthinking it. That's not the game we're playing. We're playing against the defense, we're playing to try to drive the team down and score. It doesn't matter who is lined up across from me, it's about getting the ball in the end zone.”
Both Peterman and McCarron were part of a group of Bills who got together in Dallas for a few days of workouts before heading back to Western New York. Allen, who didn’t have a contract yet, did not participate in those sessions, but spent time working with his personal quarterback coach, Jordan Palmer, in Southern California.
All three of the quarterbacks have embraced what looks to be a wide-open competition.
“It's awesome. It's what football is supposed to be,” Peterman said. “It's about competing every single day, earning your spot. … So it's exciting to be a part of.”
McDermott wouldn’t put a time frame on when he would like to have a starter named.
Every situation is different. I don't think there's a perfect way out there and a perfect date and time to name a starter, no different than a lot of positions,” he said. “I understand the quarterback position is a little bit different in some ways. We're in the middle of a competition here and we'll see how it goes. We're going to gather as much information as we can from what goes on on the grass and also what goes on off the field. We'll move forward when we feel the time is right.”
Traditionally, teams like to have a starter in place by the third preseason game, which is usually the dress rehearsal for the season opener.
“It would be nice to get a pretty good feel early on,” McDermott said. “We’ll take it one day at a time at this stage.”
If the Bills continue to stick to their rotation from the spring, McCarron can be expected to get the starting reps Friday. He said he has “no clue” if that will be the case, though.
“That's something you'd have to ask coach,” he said. “I just come out, whatever group I'm with, and go play.”
McCarron said he has a “much better” command on the offense now than he did in the spring.
“You just prepare and practice like you're the starter,” he said. “That's the only thing you can do. When you get your opportunity, you try to make the most of it.”